Biological Sciences

David Delehanty, Ph.D.

David Delehanty


I teach graduate and upper-division undergraduate courses in Ornithology, Animal Behavior, Environmental Physiology, and Conservation Biology. I advise and support graduate students at the PhD and MS levels and serve on graduate committees. My research program centers on the reproductive biology of birds and their conservation and restoration within historic ranges. I am carrying out a suite of studies on wild and captive birds that investigate the role of diet on fecundity, effects of predation threat and uncertainty on parental incubation decisions, effects of cryptic sexual selection on reproductive physiology and behavior, and development of restoration strategies that account for physiological and behavioral traits of threatened species. Current research projects include investigating the relationship between sage grouse nest success and land use within the sagebrush steppe, restoration of mountain quail to Idaho, and functional dynamics of reproductive tract asymmetry in birds. I was heavily involved in two native bird restoration projects for the state of Nevada (mountain quail and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse) in cooperation with federal and state agencies, non-governmental conservation groups, and universities. My research on the relationship between dietary consumption of plant carotenoid pigments and steroid-mediated reproductive performance provides a link between habitat conditions and annual fecundity of female birds. I curate the ornithological collection for the Idaho Museum of Natural History, an accredited regional natural history museum and state natural history repository, and I am heavily involved with faculty governance within Idaho State University.


Recent Peer-reviewed Publications

Coates, P. S., and D. J. Delehanty. 2007. Efficacy of CPTH-treated egg baits for removing common ravens. Human-Wildlife Conflicts 1: 224-234.

Lowe, B. S., and D. J. Delehanty. 2007. Greater sage-grouse use of threetip sagebrush communities in Idaho's Great Rift Region. Pp. 167-170 in (S. Hughes, ed.) Idaho's Great Rift Symposium, Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho.

Coates, P. S., and D. J. Delehanty. 2006. Using sharp-tailed grouse movement patterns to guide release site selection. Wildlife Society Bulletin 34: 1376-1382.

Coates, P. S., and D. J. Delehanty. 2006 Effect of capture date on nest-attempt rate of translocated sharp-tailed grouse. Wildlife Biology 12: 277-283.

O'Hearn, P. P., L. M. Romero, R. Carlson, and D. J. Delehanty. 2005. Effective subcutaneous implantation of radio-transmitters into the furcular cavity of chukar. Wildlife Society Bulletin 33: 1033-1046.

Delehanty, D. J., and P. P. O'Hearn. 2005. Behavioral and morphological asymmetries in chukar copulation. Journal of Avian Biology 36(4): 276-279.

Coates, P. S., and D. J. Delehanty. 2004. The effects of raven removal on sage grouse nest success. Proceedings from the 21st Vertebrate Pest Conference, Visalia, California, March 1-5, 2004.

Delehanty, D. J., S. S. Eaton, and T. G. Campbell. 2004. From the field: Mountain quail fidelity to guzzlers in the Mojave Desert. Wildlife Society Bulletin 32: 588-593.

Delehanty, D. J., and N. C. Turek. 2003. Using wing plumage to determine age of mountain quail. North American Bird Banding 28(3): 116-120.

Tracy, C. R., R. Averill-Murray, W. Boarman, D. Delehanty, J. Heaton, E. McCoy, D. Morafka, K. Nussear. 2003. Scientific assessment of the Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan. Integrative and Comparative Biology 43: 1004.

Delehanty, D. J. 2000. Reproductive effort of female mountain quail induced by dietary xanthophyll. Page 125 in L. A. Brennan, W. E. Palmer, L. W. Burger, Jr., and T. L. Pruden (eds.). Quail IV: Proceeding of the Fourth national Quail Symposium. Tall Timbers Research Station, Tallahassee, FL.

Book Chapters and Scientific Reports

Elphick, C. S., J. M. Reed, and D. J. Delehanty. 2007. Applications of Reproductive Biology to Bird Conservation and Population Management. In B. G. M. Jamieson (ed.). Reproductive Biology and Phylogeny of Birds. Science Publishers, Enfield, New Hampshire, USA.

Tracy, C. R., R. Averill-Murray, W. Boarman, D. Delehanty, J. Heaton, E. McCoy, D. Morafka, K. Nussear, B. Hagerty, and P. Medica. 2004. Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan Assessment. 217 pp.

Educational Publications in Popular Press

Delehanty, D. J. 2001. Chachalacas and Allies. Pp. 230-232 in (Elphick, C., J. B. Dunning, Jr., and D. A. Sibley, Eds.) The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. Knopf, New York.

Delehanty, D. J. 2001. Grouse, Turkeys, and Allies. Pp. 233-241 in (Elphick, C., J. B. Dunning, Jr., and D. A. Sibley, Eds.) The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. Knopf, New York.

Delehanty, D. J. 2001. New World Quail. Pp. 242-245 in (Elphick, C., J. B. Dunning, Jr., and D. A. Sibley, Eds.) The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. Knopf, New York.

Current and Recent Graduate Students

Current I am currently the major advisor for one PhD student, Pamela O'Hearn, three MS students, Ronald Troy, Gifford Gillette, and Kristy Howe, and one Master of Natural Science student, David Mead, within the Biological Sciences graduate program at Idaho State University.

Degree Major advisor for Peter Coates, PhD granted 2007. Measured greater sage-grouse incubation behavior in relation to predator communities, Idaho State University.

Degree Major advisor for Nichole Turek, MS granted 2007. Measured side-bias in avian copulation in wild, free-ranging birds, Idaho State University.

Degree Major advisor for Joey Warwick, MS granted 2007. Measured morphological and cytological testicular asymmetry in Chukar, Idaho State University.

Degree Major advisor for Brad Lowe, MS granted 2006. Measured greater sage-grouse use of three-tip sage and rehabilitated sagebrush habitat, Idaho State University.

Degree Major advisor for Noa Sparks, MS granted 2006. Measured incubation response of American coots to experimental partial clutch loss, Idaho State University.

Degree Major advisor for Pamela O'Hearn, MS granted 2003. Tested the effectiveness of subcutaneous radio implants on chukar partridge and measured other dynamics of chukar reproduction, Idaho State University.

Degree Major advisor for Peter Coates, MS granted 2001. Measured sperm storage, reproduction, and movement of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse reintroduced to Nevada, University of Nevada, Reno. Peter was a graduate student in residence with me at ISU as he completed his degree at UNR.

Degree Major advisor for Sarah Robles, MS granted 2000. Measured the effects of dietary carotenoid pigments on oviduct and ovarian recrudescence in pheasants and partridge, University of Nevada, Reno. I facilitated Sarah's completion at UNR during my first semester as a faculty member at ISU.

Undergraduate Student Involvement

Current Although much of my research is outdoors and off campus, I try to have 1-2 undergraduate students involved in my lab during the regular school term. I involve students with actual research with the goal of providing them with enough guidance and supervision that they are making a genuine contribution to a publishable study. Occasionally, students approach me with independent study projects that they have developed for which I provide guidance.

2008 Tarisai Githu - Idaho Museum of Natural History ornithology collection.

2007 Gifford Gillette - mountain quail restoration.

2005 Gordon Mclean - chukar copulation behavior.

2004 Matt Blandford - chukar morphological asymmetry.

2004 Pam Bond - sage grouse incubation time budgets.

2003 Lisa Hester - supplemental feeding in Australian birds.

2002 Josh Schultz - raven predation on sage grouse eggs and chicks.

2002 Angie Symons - using electrical impedance to measure avian lipids.

2001-03 Nichole Turek - Using wing plumage to age mountain quail.

Current and Recent Research

Current Sage-grouse nest success in relation to raven abundance - The greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) has declined in distribution and abundance across most of its historic range within the Great Basin and intermountain west. With a graduate student, I am measuring and modeling raven abundance in relation to human land use and the effect of raven abundance on sage grouse nest success. Preliminary results point to a link between sagebrush steppe fragmentation and increased raven numbers with a subsequent increase in raven depredation of sage grouse nests. This applied research will aid managers in developing management actions intended to conserve sage grouse.

Current Functional bilateral asymmetry in avian testes- Working with a graduate student, we have demonstrated critical compositional differences between the left and right testes of male chukar partridge. The cytological differences we have observed are consistent with and expand our understanding of cryptic sexual selection in chukar in relation to unilateral female reproductive tract morphology and intense sperm competition characteristic of avian mating systems. This project is now being expanded to include a PhD student surveying a suite of avian orders testing for the presence or absence testicular compositional asymmetry.

Current Left-side bias in avian copulation - Working with a graduate student, we are investigating the propensity of wild birds, representing many families and orders of birds, to copulate from the left side of females. The purpose of research is to identify behavioral responses to sexual selection and female reproductive tract morphology in birds that exhibit various mating systems.

Current Sage-grouse incubation behavior and nest success in relation to predator communities and habitat characteristics - The greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) has declined in distribution and abundance across most of its historic range within the Great Basin and intermountain west. With a PhD student, I am investigating fine-scale incubation patterns of sage grouse in relation to nest success and in response to predator abundance and habitat characteristics. This nearly completed project is expected to produce 4 substantial papers including the first detailed measurements of sage grouse incubation rhythms. This project uses remote videography to directly document predator x grouse interactions at the nest and to make fine-scale measurements of grouse incubation behavior.

Current Restoring Mountain Quail to Public Lands in Southern Idaho - The mountain quail (Oreortyx pictus) has been extirpated from most of its historic range in Idaho. This conservation project seeks to restore a self-sustaining population of mountain quail to the Bennett Hills of southern Idaho, an area within the recent historic range of mountain quail. This project forms the MS research project for one graduate student and is being conducted in cooperation with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. The project is modeled after other, similar, projects successfully carried out in Nevada (below).

2003-06 Role of uncertainty in American coot incubation decisions - The American coot (Fulica americana) lays large clutches of eggs that are incubated either synchronously or asynchronously. Working with a graduate student, this recently completed project measured parental response to reduced fitness potential of continued parental investment by experimentally reducing clutch size through the removal of random eggs within synchronous and asynchronous clutches. By comparing parental responses to clutches with predictable hatch date (randomly reduced synchronous clutches) to clutches with unpredictable hatch date (randomly reduced asynchronous clutches) we are also able to assess the effect of uncertainty on parental incubation decisions.

2003-06 Sage grouse use of threetip sagebrush communities - The greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is a sagebrush obligate species. Most research on sage grouse reproduction has been carried out in mountain big sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata vaseyana) communities. Changing fire regimens are altering remaining sagebrush communities in the intermountain west, with threetip sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata tripartita) often replacing big sagebrush following burns. This recently completed project measured the degree to which threetip sagebrush communities are suitable for sage grouse reproduction relative to mountain big sagebrush communities.

2002-03 Cryptic sexual selection in chukar - As an adaptation for flight, females in most bird species have a single oviduct, which exits to the cloaca to the left of the midline. Working with a graduate student, we were the first to identify within a single species a suite of asymmetrical traits associated with the transfer of gametes, namely: i) left-side morphological asymmetry in females, ii) left-biased asymmetry in male testis size, and iii) left side bias in copulation behavior with males and females copulating from the left-side of the female.

1998-03 Restoration of mountain quail to the northern Great Basin - The mountain quail is a poorly known high-elevation galliform bird endemic to the American west, but extirpated from most of the northern Great Basin. Using restoration techniques developed during my dissertation research (below), I established a new breeding population in the northern Great Basin within the species' historic range. I have also established a second population in northeastern Nevada through 2003. I am seeking to restart this project working with management agencies in both Nevada and Idaho.

1999-02 Restoration of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse to Nevada - Historically, the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse occurred across northern Nevada but was extirpated during the twentieth century. I carried out the first reintroduction attempts and participated in developing a long-term restoration strategy for Nevada. First release occurred April 1999. Currently, a small but fragile population has been established in the Snake Mountains of northeastern Nevada. This project also led to a new technique being developed for identifying the presence of spermatozoa within live female grouse using a minimally invasive technique.

1999-01 Relationship between consumption of plant-derived xanthophyll pigments and female sexual maturation and fecundity in vertebrates - Using galliform birds as model species, I have demonstrated a previously unrecognized positive relationship between diet and steroid performance in vertebrates (see dissertation research, below). This research introduces a new aspect to animal reproductive physiology and an important new plant/animal interaction. Also, it provides an underlying mechanism linking annual avian reproductive success to prevailing habitat conditions. During 1999, I demonstrated this effect for ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus), and, in 2000, I demonstrated the same effect in chukar partridge (Alectoris chukar).

1991-97 Dissertation: Mountain Quail Reproduction and Restoration in the Great Basin. I showed that female mountain quail recrudesce reproductive tissues more rapidly and experience increased fecundity under diets high in carotenoid plant pigments known as xanthophylls. These results represent an important physiological discovery linking diet, the action of steroid hormones, and reproductive performance. Also, it provides an explanatory mechanism for high annual variation in galliform reproduction in relation to annual habitat conditions. Additionally, I identified a ritual display unique to mountain quail that allows both sexes to actively court opposite sex individuals relative to the prevailing degree of intrasexual competition (as determined by sex ratio) and I showed a high behavioral affinity of mountain quail to Old World galliforms. Finally, using controlled experiments, I demonstrated that wild-trapped quail are superior to captively-reared quail for translocation and that spring releases may be superior to autumn releases when attempting to establish new breeding populations. (Major advisor, Dr. C. Richard Tracy, University of Nevada, Reno.)

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